Academic Resources: Bar Exam Services

Congratulations to our bar passers, many of whom were sworn in December 5 to practice law at the state and federal levels by retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lee D. Baxter (JD 74, LLD 08) and Chief Magistrate Judge James Larson of US District Court, Northern District of California. Welcome to the website for Bar Exam Services.

This website is designed to provide you with everything you need to know about the bar exam so that you will be as prepared as possible to sit for one of the most important exams in your life.

Golden Gate University School of Law is partnered with Themis Bar Review to offer GGU Law students Bar prep materials to everyone at no cost, from the moment they enter as a 1L until the time they graduate. Read about our partnership with Themis Bar Review here.


There are so many rumors floating around the bar exam. Students, thirsting for information, seek out classmates, alumni, bar providers, professors, and anyone else who they think might know about the bar exam. Many attorneys who have passed the bar exam, although well intended, have limited exposure and knowledge about the bar exam. Professors oftentimes are in the same boat as attorneys. Bar providers, being commercial entities, tend to interpret information in a way that would sell their products.


So why would this site have better information?

First of all, we are not trying to sell anything. Instead, we are trying to make sure our students are well informed about the bar exam. Second, being a repository of bar related information, we hear most of the rumors that circulate from bar to bar. Finally, we can check it out.


You have a 50 percent chance of passing the bar exam

Most of our students have heard that their chances of passing the bar exam in California are less than 50 percent. Yes, when the bar results are released every November, the pass rate reported is around 50 percent or less. What people don't know is that this is the overall pass rate for first-time takers and repeaters. Also, most people are not aware that graduates from non-ABA law schools can sit for the California bar exam. When all of these categories are filtered out, first-time takers from California ABA law schools have passed the last four July bar exams at around 70 percent.


You need a minimum score of "x" on the MBE to pass the California bar exam

California does not require a minimum score on any component of the bar exam in order to pass. You need to achieve a minimum total score to pass successfully. Either you pass the entire exam or you retake the whole thing. (Attorneys who have passed the bar exam in another jurisdiction may not have to take the MBE component.) For example, a low score on the MBE portion can be balanced out by high scores on the written portions (essays and performance tests).


You cannot bring any bottled water into the exam

This is true. The bar examiners are concerned about spillage. Not only might you spill your water on your own test booklet, but you might also ruin someone else's test booklet. Don't worry about dehydrating during the exam - there are water fountains.


If I start studying during the semester, I'll burn out before the bar review course begins

It is possible to burn out during the semester, especially if you have a heavy load of classes and a job. You will certainly burn out during the bar review course if you are not ready to take the bar exam.

Make an assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. How is your knowledge of the law? How are your test-taking skills? If your knowledge of the law is not good or you feel uncomfortable taking essay exams, multiple choice questions, or performance tests, you should start preparing for the bar exam earlier than later. Waiting to learn the law and test-taking skills during the two months of bar review is not a wise decision. There simply is not enough time to learn and master the materials.

You will also need to assess your priorities if you are deciding among preparing for the bar exam, scoring well on your final exams, and working.

Once you make the decision to start studying in advance, do not study with the intensity of studying for final exams. The bar exam is not tomorrow nor the day after. It is important that you reintroduce yourself with the material and re-learn it if necessary. It is not important that you memorize it. With such low intensity studying, you should not be burning yourself out.

Also, use the break in May between the end of school and the beginning of bar review to take a well deserved and much needed break. This is the time to re-energize and gear up for the bar review period. Click here are some myths about the MBE from the National Conference of Bar Examiners.

  1. Begin preparing in advance. Learn about the bar exam and assess your strengths and weaknesses (i.e., during the semester and prior to graduation).
  2. Improve basic analytical skills. Did you learn and master these skills during law school? Analytical skills include:
    1. issue spotting,
    2. breaking rules into elements,
    3. using facts and providing arguments,
    4. using IRAC format.
  3. Improve your test taking techniques. Be able to modify your test taking skills that you learned in law school for the nuances of the bar exam (reading the question, organizing the answer, making choices, time management).
  4. Know your preferred learning styles. Determine what adjustments you will need to make with the bar review materials to maximize your learning and studying.
  5. Review or learn the substantive law. Note the areas tested on the bar exam and the depth to which each area is tested.
  6. Build your confidence. Believe in yourself and your chances of passing the bar. Never take the bar with the intent of taking it again or it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  7. Stabilize your financial resources. The bar exam application and the cost of a bar preparation program may exceed $4,000. Despite the high cost of taking the bar exam, do not forego a bar review course. Also, do not plan on working during the bar review period.
  8. Anticipate and eliminate outside distractions. Prepare family, friends, and significant others for the bar review period. Let them know how important this exam is to you and how much preparation it requires.
  9. Monitor your energy and stress. Maintain perspective about the bar exam. Be sure to eat well, rest, exercise, and avoid burning out or getting ill.
  10. Avoid self-destructive behavior. Avoid making important decisions during the bar review period.

Unlike law school, the goal of the bar exam is not to rank you. It is a licensing test requiring you to pass a minimum threshold.

The standard to pass the bar exam is "minimum competency" to practice law as a lawyer. It requires mastery of certain minimum skills that all lawyers should have in order to competently practice law.

Instructions from the State Bar of California's Essay Exam:

Your answer should demonstrate your ability to analyze the facts in question, to tell the difference between material and immaterial facts, and to discern the points of law and fact upon which the case turns. Your answer should show that you know and understand the pertinent principles and theories of law, their qualifications and limitations, and their relationships to each other. Your answer should evidence your ability to apply law to the given facts and to reason in a logical, lawyer-like manner from the premises you adopt to a sound conclusion. Do not merely show that you remember legal principles. Instead, try to demonstrate your proficiency in using and applying them.

If your answer contains only a statement of your conclusions, you will receive little credit. State fully the reasons that support your conclusions, and discuss all points thoroughly. Your answer should be complete, but you should not volunteer information or discuss legal doctrines which are not pertinent to the solution of the problem.

Unless a question expressly asks you to use California law, you should answer according to legal theories and principles of general application.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners, the company that prepares the MultiState Bar Examination, provides a description of its testing in an informational booklet that can be found on its website The questions on the examination are designed to be answered by applying fundamental legal principles rather than local case or statutory law. A given question may indicate the applicable statute, theory of liability, or comparable principle of law.

Many of the questions require applicants to analyze the legal relationships arising from a fact situation or to take a position as an advocate. Some questions call for judgements about interpreting, drafting, or counseling. Most of these skills are introduced in the first year of law school and tested throughout your law school career. Some professors are better than others at teaching these skills. Some will teach you more deliberately and some will "hide the ball." Nevertheless, you will be required to show your mastery on the bar exam.

  • Analytical and critical thinking, reading and listening
  • Identify legal issues from a set of facts
  • Develop a "rule of law" by synthesizing statutes and cases
  • Apply the rule of law to the facts
  • Articulate arguments pro and con
  • Reason to a logical conclusion
  • Organize rules of law into a body of law
  • Communicate in writing
  • Manage time and prioritize tasks
Granted, these are minimum skills. A good lawyer should also have the following skills.
  • Verbal communications
  • Legal research
  • Fact gathering and discovery
  • Client control
  • Negotiations
  • Trial techniques
  • Knowledge of diversity issues
  • Marketing
  • Networking
  • Computer competency
  • Office management
  • Personnel management
  • Stress management
  • Professionalism

In law school, you will be learning the basic analytical skills tested on the bar exam. Most of these skills are introduced in the first year of law school and tested throughout your law school career.Some professors are better than others at teaching these skills. Some will teach you more deliberately and some will "hide the ball." Some professors will use the bar testing formats and some will not. Nevertheless, you will be required to show your mastery on the bar exam.Here at GGU, we encourage our professors to expose you to all three testing components during class or on your exams.

In addition, we also provide you with many opportunities to find out about the bar exam, learn the basic skills, and practice your skills on the three bar formats. Here are some of those opportunities:
Also, find out as much as you can about the bar exam. Do not get caught off guard. Here are some resources where you will find information about these topics:

Get ready for an eight-week ride on a roller coaster! The bar review period goes by very fast. Every one or two days, you will be reviewing a new outline, listening to a new lecturer, and taking tests on a different subject. You do the math. Fourteen different subjects in fifty-six days. There are only three or four days for each subject. Throw in a few days to focus on three different testing formats and you get the picture.

First of all, everyone falls behind while studying for the bar. There is no way you can study as much as you would like. Think back to your first year of law school. There was just too much subject matter and too much detail. In addition, you were trying to figure out your professor and what they wanted.During the bar review period, you will also be making adjustments to the depth that the bar exam tests and getting used to the expectations of a new, faceless grader.


Basic Information

There are some basic steps in applying to take the bar exam in California. Although it may seem complicated, there are just three steps:
  1. In your first semester - register with the State Bar as a law student.
  2. Anytime in your last year - complete and file your Moral Character application.
  3. In your last semester - complete and file the application to take the bar exam.

Be aware that there are filing fees associated with these steps. Here is a summary of steps required to take the California bar exam.

For general information on the California bar exam, go to the State Bar's Website.

For those taking the bar exam using a laptop, go to the ExamSoft Website for more information.


Testing Accommodations

If you are receiving accommodations in law school, you should apply for accommodations on the bar exam as soon as possible. A good time is at the beginning of your second year.

Read about Testing Accommodations on the State Bar Website


Also, after taking a class in Professional Responsibility, you should apply to take the MPRE.

Visit the National Conference of Bar Examiners Website

Other Jurisdictions

For students planning on taking the bar exam in another jurisdiction, further information may be found here:

Bar Admission Offices

For More Information, Contact:

Bar Exam Services
536 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105